by Sofia Rose Wolman
The First Meeting of States Parties (1MSP) to the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), held June 21-23, 2022, in Vienna, Austria, marked a new era in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons.
As a result of tremendous diplomatic and civil society efforts, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at the UN on July 7, 2017, and entered into force on January 22, 2021. The Treaty – which “prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory… [and] from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities” – is widely and increasingly supported by governments and people throughout the world. By July 13, 2022, 66 UN member states have ratified the TPNW as States parties, and 86 States have joined as signatories. So far, the U.S. and 8 other nuclear-armed states have boycotted the TPNW, and did not participate in the 1MSP.
Amidst the horrors of conventional warfare, increased threats of nuclear war, the erosion of arms control agreements, and other forms of instability and violence, the 1MSP heralds a body of international legislation and partners determined to confront the catastrophic danger of nuclear weapons. The TPNW (or Nuclear Ban Treaty) opens new space to work creatively for policies, frameworks, and approaches that are deeply democratic, just, peaceful, and responsive.
When States join the TPNW, they reject the fundamentally flawed doctrine of nuclear deterrence and the discriminatory international system enabling countries to impose their interests by rattling their weapons of mass destruction. The Treaty builds on the commitment enshrined in the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.” The U.S. and other nuclear-armed states have shirked this commitment, as illustrated by extremely high levels of military spending – including on projects to “recapitalize and modernize” this nation’s “nuclear stockpile [of over 3,500 nuclear warheads], delivery systems, and infrastructure”.
At the heart of the TPNW is recognition of the intrinsic, imminent, and unacceptable catastrophic danger inherent in the existence of nuclear weapons. Rooted in decades of organizing for peace and nuclear abolition, the TPNW was catalyzed through three Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (HINW) in 2013 and 2014. A fourth HINW Conference was held in Vienna on June 20, 2022 (preceding the 1MSP) to explore the disastrous consequences of nuclear weapon use (Watch the 1MSP; the Nuclear Ban Forum June 18 mainstage and June 19 mainstage; and the fourth HINW Conference.) The 1MSP and related events focused on populations, communities, and people that have been and are impacted by nuclear weapons testing and use. Members of civil society (including NGOs, academics, youth representatives, and scientists) were prominent throughout the programs.
Priorities being pursued following the 1MSP include: universalizing the Treaty; eliminating nuclear weapons and establishing verification methods; helping people and places harmed by nuclear weapons; embracing principles of inclusivity and cooperation; promoting a progressive approach to gender and disarmament; establishing an intersessional structure for the Treaty’s implementation; and working with scientists and other UN treaties. (See Vienna Declaration and Action Plan, or ICAN’s briefing paper).
The Second Meeting of States Parties is scheduled for November 2023 in New York City.
Critically, significant perspectives and demands were marginalized or absent from the 1MSP, indicating substantial undermining by competing interests. For example, nuclear energy – which many recognize as unacceptably harmful and dangerous – was lauded by a number of States. Additionally, when addressing environmental remediation and victim assistance related to nuclear weapons use, the TPNW and 1MSP define impacted communities by those impacted by nuclear weapons testing and use, but exclude those affected by the devastating effects of earlier and subsequent stages of the fuel chain.
In a live transmission from Vienna, Janene Yazzie (a community organizer and human rights advocate who works with Indigenous communities across the U.S., serves as coordinator of the Nuclear Truth Project Protocols Working Group, and is a former co-convener of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group to the UN High-Level Political Forum on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals) speaks truth to power, explaining:
“Nuclear war, as my people and many other people understand it, begins with the mining of uranium and the devastation to the health of our peoples and our environment … The effects of nuclear war and nuclear-related activities affect all of those millions living by or within areas of production or waste, or transportation routes of nuclear weapons and highly radioactive waste that results from nuclear activities … I’ve heard so many times from state delegates and even representatives of NGOs that the potentiality of a future nuclear war could be the end of our way of life … but I come from communities and work alongside others where it has already been the end of many ways of living – where the legacy of contamination and the impacts to our communities mean we can’t drink the water available to us or…gather the wild foods or grow the traditional foods that our communities have depended on for millennia.”
The inability of the 1MSP and TPNW to extend their efforts adequately highlights the need for our movements to organize beyond even a relatively progressive diplomatic status quo. To be most ethical and effective, people and groups working for well-being, peace, justice, and moral relationships should recognize the leadership of individuals with direct experience and expertise, even when their perspectives are marginalized within the groundbreaking TPNW. Such leadership should be incorporated by everyone working against nuclearism and all forms of domination, state violence, and exploitation.
In the U.S., many efforts are underway to advance the Treaty and nuclear abolition through fostering such leadership for the 2MSP in November 2023 in NYC, and for commemorations such as:
- July 16 (1945: Trinity Test in New Mexico and 1979: Church Rock disaster also in NM);
- August 6 and 9 (1945: Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days);
- March 1 (1954: Bikini Day/Nuclear Remembrance Day);
- March 11 (2011: Fukushima Daiichi Disaster)
The value of expanded leadership will also be crucial for:
- Divesting from and protesting nuclear weapons profiteers
- Promoting legislation to halt military spending, and sign and ratify the TPNW
- Making connections with other efforts at disrupting nuclearism – like Peace & Planet (July 30, 2022); the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (August 1-28, 2022); Back from the Brink; and Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones
- Non-cooperation and civil disobedience
- Urging and contributing to media coverage of the TPNW and working for nuclear abolition
Moved to work for peace and to abolish nuclear weapons, and encouraged by the power of the TPNW, we are called to integrate the truths of harm and alternative ways of being into our analyses and strategies, with accountability, imagination, urgency, and steadfastness that abolition requires.
Become involved, all of you, and please report your actions at https://nuclearbantreaty.org/actions/.
Sofia Rose Wolman is a collaborator with Inside the Sun, a Boston-based organization committed to eradicating the root cause of oppression through community self-care and self-determination.